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Monday, August 23, 2004

Negatively Charged
CMU just sent out a letter to all students that, effective pretty much immediately, it will no longer accept credit cards for payment of tuition and related costs. This is because, they say, it cost the school $800,000 last year to process credit cards.

Obviously students need to pay for these things via credit card, else they would have already found another way to do it, right? And obviously, if there was that amount of fees, a large number of students are using their credit cards to pay their fees (which include the outrageous health insurance costs).

Now, if students need this service but it is costing the school too much, the school should have either:

  1. gone to the credit card companies and negotiated a deal. CMU could have said, "Cut us a deal or we walk." The credit card companies would have wanted some money rather than none. We do have a great business school that teaches this stuff. OR
  2. pass some or part of the fees onto the students who are using the credit cards. OR
  3. some combination of both.

Any of these would have been a better solution instead of the administration just throwing up their hands and going, Oh well, let's stop offering this. In fact, it's contemptible that nothing else was attempted. Sometimes the administration forgets that the whole reason the university exists is the students and that they are here to help support them in every way possible. Which means finding solutions that keep the school solvent while still helping students attend.

posted at 04:32 PM in cmu, money | comments (1) | trackback (0) | link


Wednesday, July 21, 2004

The Cost of Student Health
I made the mistake this morning of looking to see how much my student health insurance will cost me next year. This past year, it cost me the ridiculous sum of ~$6000 USD. Next year, if I want the same coverage (which, as I'll relate, is pretty crappy), it will cost me ~$9000 USD. That's not a typo. $9000. The year before I began, it was around ~$4000. So in effect, it has doubled in two years.

All I have to say is: What. The. Fuck.

Actually, that isn't all I have to say. This is an outrageous thing to foster on students who are already paying a huge amount of tuition. Especially since even this high-cost coverage isn't all that great. My wife went to a doctor who made her pay the full amount of her visit up front, since this insurance company apparently doesn't always pay the doctors. And this was a doctor in the plan. And we're not talking some high-quality coverage here, choosing your own doctors and all that with them footing the bill for everything; this is just a glorified HMO.

Split between the three of us in my family, we'd each have to spend $3000 next year in medical bills to make this worth our while. Which, unless one of us was hospitalized, would be hard to do. So, we're basically going to have to go with the lesser (much lesser) plan, affectionately called the "hit by a bus" health plan. This will still cost us ~$3000 USD a year and the coverage will be craptacular.

It's pretty lousy to have to put your family's health at risk to attend school.

posted at 03:52 PM in cmu, money | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Laptops for Everybody!
The word is that all CMU design grad students are getting Powerbooks next year instead of the Mac desktops we've had in the past. (Since I had a laptop and CMU is pretty thoroughly wired, I think I turned on my desktop twice last year.) This is pretty sweet--especially for incoming people who don't have to fork over the $2500 in hardware and software like I did last year. Now, if CMU could only be like Duke and give us all free iPods...

posted at 11:02 AM in cmu, money | comments (1) | trackback (0) | link


Saturday, May 15, 2004

Graduation Day 2004
Graduation day. All the second-year grad students who've finished (or nearly have) their classwork and thesis work got their diplomas today at a ceremony in the University Center.

I shall miss them. In some ways, I'm as attached to the new graduates as I am to my own class. Most of them are closer to me in age and experience than most of my class (who, it should be said, have their own charms). And since I deferred for a year, I've always thought of myself as the phantom member of their class, like Elijah at seder. But of course, I'm not.

And now, I am truly a second-year grad student.

posted at 08:09 PM in alumni, classmates, cmu | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


Wednesday, May 12, 2004

School's Out for Summer
Today was the last day of school for the 2003-4 school year. My paper is turned in. My project is over. My poster is finished. My thesis paper proposal is approved. My thesis project proposal is approved. My grades are in for the class I taught. My library books are returned and my thesis research books are on order from Amazon. My keys to my classrooms and grad studio are turned in. My fall class schedule is decided. I've got a summer job working at a local software design firm, MAYA Viz.

The only thing left to do is watch my friends and classmates graduate on Saturday and the year will be over. It's a bittersweet feeling.

posted at 08:16 PM in cmu, student life | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


Thesis Project Presentations 2004
I spent Monday watching the second-year students present their thesis projects. Being there was like being a guest at a wedding: you're glad for the celebration, but equally glad you aren't the one getting married. Next year, it'll be me and my first-year classmates up there...

I've collected the projects (or their descriptions) I could find online:

posted at 07:57 PM in classmates, cmu | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


Saturday, May 8, 2004

Design v. Art Direction
Jeffrey Zeldman has a blog entry about the difference between art direction and design. His distinction, combined with Stephen Hay's A List Apart article on Art Direction on the Web, is pretty interesting when you consider them through the lens of a design school like CMU's.

CMU's undergrads do some pretty unbelievable communication and industrial design work. In many cases (and certainly in mine), their raw talent and their intense training slay my rudimentary (by their standards anyway) drawing and modeling skills. Your average freshman at CMU can probably draw rings around most of the graduate students. But where the graduate students excel is in the conceptual realm. While we do learn our share of hands-on skills, where we're really pushed is in the area of thinking: for well-thought-out concepts and in abstract thinking, both about design and about different subject matters. To use Zeldman's terms, we're being trained to be art directors.

posted at 01:57 PM in cmu | comments (2) | trackback (0) | link


Monday, April 26, 2004

Gotta Represent My Peeps
Somehow, I got suckered into being the Design representative on the Graduate Student Assembly for next year. I'm not sure how the Jedi mind trick worked on me...

posted at 04:40 PM in cmu, extracurricular | comments (1) | trackback (0) | link


Sunday, April 18, 2004

Goin' Buggy

Images from CMU's infamous Buggy Races. (Click either for larger view)

posted at 05:43 PM in cmu, extracurricular | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


Thursday, April 15, 2004

The next four days at CMU are Carnival, when classes are suspended, heavy drinking ensues, rides are erected, and tiny women are sent hurling down steep hills in buggies. Music events happen on several stages for the next couple of days, with the headline act being N.E.R.D on Friday night. Could there be a more appropriately-named band to play on this campus? Probably not.

After weeks of cold and rain, the weather is sunny and warm and glorious. It should be a nice couple of days.

posted at 10:14 AM in cmu, extracurricular | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


Wednesday, March 31, 2004

CMU Typeface
It would be cool for CMU to have its own typeface, like the one Matthew Carter (a recent visitor to CMU) did for Yale. Right now, the Design school uses an uneasy mix of ITC Officina Sans and Meta (for numbers). And type is one of our specialties!

posted at 09:49 PM in cmu, typography | comments (2) | trackback (0) | link


Thursday, March 25, 2004

What's Not Taught
Check out Michael McDonough’s Top Ten Things They Never Taught Me in Design School for a little dose of reality. So many ring so true. Why I'm glad I worked for a bunch of years before going back to school: some these I already instinctively knew.

posted at 04:35 PM in big ideas, cmu, design 101 | comments (0) | trackback (1) | link


Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Career Daze
Tomorrow and Friday are Design Career Days at CMU, when companies visit, tour the Studios, find out about our programs, and, most importantly, interview and (hopefully) hire students for full-time and summer jobs. As you can imagine, the grad studio is crazed with people preparing resumes and portfolios.

We've got a nice roster of companies attending, many of which I wouldn't mind working for myself...

posted at 09:48 AM in cmu | comments (1) | trackback (0) | link


Saturday, March 20, 2004

The Student Circle of Life
They've chosen next year's Master's students and have sent out acceptance letters. Now it's just a matter of who will accept the offers--and who will show up once classes start. We got slightly less applicants this year (probably because the economy is marginally better), but it was still over 40 applicants for each program. We're all curious about who our classmates will be for next year.

Meanwhile, the second-year students are scrambling to finish their thesis projects and, at the same time, find jobs (or wait for PhD acceptances, if they are so inclined). Bilge Mutlu was already accepted to CMU's HCI PhD program. It's a hectic time for them. And frankly, I don't want them to go. I rely on many of them for their friendship and advice, so I will definitely feel it when they are gone.

For the first-years, it's time to decide on thesis papers, projects, and advisors. It is tough to pick something you want to work on for a year. You don't know what topic is going to be so interesting and rich that you'd want to spend a year of your life researching, writing about, and designing it. I've worked on year-long projects before, but never one I've chosen for myself. It's an interesting dilemma because it can be a hell of your own making.

posted at 08:24 AM in classmates, cmu, preparation, student life, thesis paper, thesis project | comments (1) | trackback (0) | link


Wednesday, March 3, 2004

Airing Dirty Laundry
One thing that is annoying about my program is how woefully under-promoted it is. There's no reason that someone from CMU shouldn't be included in these types of conversations about design education. It's sort of embarrassing we weren't, honestly. I was equally saddened and amazed at how many people at the IA Summit had never even heard of the interaction design program here. And I'm talking to people in the profession and in academia!

CMU's design school has a great reputation among those who know about us. The problem is that not enough people do. And I think it is a combination of a lot of things that I see schools like Ivrea, Art Center, and IIT doing a better job of. These include (but aren't limited to) a reasonable website, befitting a design school (rumored to be coming); hosting/sponsoring a small but visible conference like HITS; and a higher output in papers, design work, and visibility/speaking engagements from the core faculty. The addition of Shelley Evenson this past year was a step in the right direction on the last count, but clearly there is work that needs to be done.

posted at 04:43 PM in cmu | comments (4) | trackback (0) | link


Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Nerd Alert
I sometimes forget that CMU is a giant magnet school for nerds and geeks of all sorts: drama, band, computer, engineering, and, yes, design. But then, something always reminds me.

posted at 11:12 PM in cmu | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


Saturday, January 31, 2004

Summit Bound
The Design department provides all its graduate students with a small stipend to use to go to one conference per year. While others went to AIGA's Power of Design or are going to Vienna for CHI in April, this year, I'm taking my $350 and heading to ASIS&T's Information Architecture Summit, held in Austin on February 27-29.

While I'm not overly interested in information architecture in the traditional, library-science sense (taxonomies, synonym rings, etc.), there is enough user experience and interaction design stuff there to keep me busy for three days.

Hope to see some of you there!

posted at 11:45 PM in cmu, field trips | comments (2) | trackback (0) | link


Thursday, January 8, 2004

Enough Already
Ok, I am so over winter break. Four weeks is a long time to be away.

posted at 02:50 PM in cmu, student life | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


Friday, December 12, 2003

Winter Break 2003-4
It's with a mixture of sadness and relief that I close out the first semester of graduate school. It's been a tough semester: emotionally, mentally, and even physically. As Dan Boyarski warned us at orientation, CMU is intense. You can burn out easily. You can get so deep into schoolwork you can warp. Small things take on a heightened importance. Your liver can take a serious beating. I am ready for a break.

But I've done a lot of stuff, learned a lot of stuff, made a lot of friends, and, all in all, it's been well worth my time being here, which I was really worried about. A few of the things I've learned have been things that I've always wanted to but never got around to (ActionScript), but some things I wouldn't have even known where to begin.

So now, my final paper has been turned in. It's time to put down the mouse and the (power)book, and recharge for next semester, which promises to be equally interesting.

I wish you all the best holiday season and a happy new year. I hope you've enjoyed reading about my exploits this past year. I'll see you in January.

posted at 10:00 AM in classes, cmu, student life | comments (3) | trackback (0) | link


Friday, November 14, 2003

CMU Wireless Use Map
I've never seen this map of real-time CMU wireless users before, but it's really cool.

posted at 04:31 PM in cmu | comments (2) | trackback (0) | link


Thursday, November 13, 2003

USC Announces Game Design Minor
CMU dropped the ball on this one. My old undergrad rival school, USC, just announced they're creating a minor in Game Design. The fact it is not a major speaks volumes about how slow academia is to catch on to new industries. CMU could redeem itself by making a game design major as part of the ETC.

posted at 08:31 AM in cmu | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


Monday, August 25, 2003

So it begins

Today was the first day of fall semester and, really, the first day of school. Yes, I did CDF in summer session, but today seemed so much more real somehow. Maybe it was that all my classmates were around. Maybe it was the several thousand undergraduates that appeared on campus. And maybe it was just that both professors talked about the experience of CMU and about being in graduate school. Whatever it was, it was an exciting, nerve-wracking day.

My first class was Design Seminar I, which is taught by the former head of the design department, Dick Buchanan. It's a rather infamous class, much talked about by alumni and the second-year grad students. And, three minutes into the class, it's not hard to see why. "I'm here," Dick introduced himself, "to change design in the world. I want to change the way design is taught and practiced." Then he turned to my classmate Jennifer Anderson. "Why are you here?" he bluntly asked. Then he went around the room, asking each person in turn. (My answer, in case you care, was that I want to make the world a better place by improving the tools we use.)

That done, he talked about the difference between undergraduate and graduate study. Graduate study focuses on themes, connecting (and mastering) a set of facts to create an approach to design practice. Graduate students are expected to become leaders of the industry, able not only to create good designs ("good" being defined by Dick as "well-designed and the right thing to do"), but also to discourse on them. Master's students aren't expected in their theses to contribute something new to the design field, but rather to deepen a theme. It is the doctoral students who are more concerned with inquiry into new design areas and research.

Interaction is at the heart of all of CMU's Masters of Design programs, even the new one in Product Development. Something he's obviously going to get into more is that interaction design relates to Poetics (creating emotionally satisfying experiences), while CPID relates to Rhetoric (creating persuasive products). I'd be lying if I told you I knew what that meant right now.

The stated goals of the class:

  • establish a common framework of the concepts of interaction design
  • provide a strategic perspective on the community of practice
  • find our place in the field of practice
  • encourage creativity
Grad students, Dick informed us, can be boring to teach. We have too many things built up inside us that we need to suspend in order to learn. We need to learn how to be inventive. Dick's main goal is "to provide [you with] enough stuff so that you see the world differently."

It's ok, he told us, if this is perplexing. Perplexity is a form of wonder. And when wonder occurs, the possibility for creativity emerges.

We then discussed the History of Design and the History of Interaction. In the 20th century, there were two great fields of design, graphic (symbols) and industrial (objects). About 40 years ago, the language of design began to change and it started to talk about human systems like environments (actions). Then, recently, design has concerned itself with what holds a system together (thought). These are the Four Orders of Design: symbol, thing, action, thought. New things can happen when you think of something outside its order. For example, a table. A table is not a thing. Think about it as a symbol or an action. ("Ceci n'est pas une pipe"?). I'm guessing we'll get a lot deeper into this as well.

Finally, we looked at the following fragment:

Interaction is a relationship between   in the process of   for the purpose of

Broken down, this becomes a series of questions:

  • What is the data we have? What do we look for? What is acceptable data and how do we interpret it?
  • What is it between?
  • How is the connection established?
  • Why? What is its purpose?
And that's where we left off. We have a homework assignment to select any example of interaction design and identify at least three types of data that one could investigate in order to understand or appreciate the design.

Reminder: this is all in the first hour and a half of fall semester.

Went to the on-campus Indian restaurant with Rob and Phi-Hong Ha, another first-year interaction design student. I like Sree's Indian food from the trucks better, I found.

The afternoon class was Graduate Studio, taught by the current head of the design department, Dan Boyarski. Studio is the yin to Seminar's yang. Seminar is mainly reading and discourse. Studio is project based and more nuts-and-bolts.

Dan started by saying that if the faculty don't change us, don't make us students different than what we were before we came, they haven't done their jobs. Grad school can be thought of as a retreat. It's not a smooth journey, however.

We talked about the need to be flexible: the environment we're working in is constantly changing. Often, part of the designer's job is simply to exercise common sense with clients.

Communication is what interaction is. We work with human-to-human communication, filtered through mediums (like computers). It's our job to turn data into meaningful information by providing form and structure to it.

We looked at Richard Saul Wurman's ways to organize data: LATCH. Location, alphabetical, time, category, hierachy. One of my classmates, Cheryl Gach, suggested one more: Random. Combining these ways, the information becomes even more meaningful. It's the designer's job to ask the right questions of the data.

Our first project for Studio is a self-portrait poster using Wurman's categories as the starting point.

Wow, quite a day. It took me an hour and half to get it all down. I can't promise detail like this every day, but today, being the first day, I thought it was special enough to record in detail.

posted at 10:18 PM in big ideas, classes, classmates, cmu, cpid program, design 101, faculty, projects | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


Tuesday, August 5, 2003

Random Thoughts about CMU

Today's class was more of the same from yesterday, as we analyzed the current USPS Change of Address form, then began to sketch out some redesigns. Like so:

So I'll take this time to record some of the thoughts I've had floating around about CMU lately.

Fight the future: Every day as I walk to class, I pass by a classroom on campus filled with 10-12 year olds, busily working away on Macs. It's a Tech Camp for kids who feel that summer is overrated. And every day I realize the same thing: my competition for jobs in the future isn't going to be my classmates in grad school, it is going to be these kids, who grew up in a GUI world. My daughter, at age 2, is already surfing through sites and playing Flash games. Designing for these Millenials is going to be a challenge due to their sophisitication with UIs.

Locker room talk: The talk in the men's locker room at CMU is seldom about women: it's about nearly everything else. I've overheard conversations about everything from testing Unix servers to the acting techniques of Stanford Meisner.

Trucks: Pretty much the best food to be found on campus is doled out in styrofoam cartons from a row of food trucks that are parked in front of Margaret Morrison. Thai, Middle Eastern, Indian. It's all good, despite the initial reservations.

Office space: The design students probably have the best work spaces on campus. Our poor HCI classmates are buried deep inside windowless rooms in colorless buildings.

Assistantships: All design grad students get an assistantship along with an accompanying $8000 stipend. This is all well and good, but nothing compared with the deal that many of the HCI students get, with a decent salary and free or reduced tuition. We don't yet know what our assistantship for fall will be; they are going to tell us at Design Orientation on August 21st. They can range from being a TA to doing tech support. I'm eager to know what mine will be so that I have a fuller picture of what fall will be like.

posted at 02:24 PM in cmu, info design | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


Sunday, May 25, 2003

Why Carnegie Mellon

Despite US News & World Report's number 2 ranking for CMU's graduate design program, I'm fairly certain that it'll be the best place for me, mainly because what they are good at teaching matches 1) what I'm interested in and 2) what I need to know. These would include typography, cognitive science, design theory, industrial design, and a host of other things like game design. Plus, I was very impressed with where some of their grads were offered jobs: Ideo, Microsoft, Ford, IBM, Google. Not too shabby.

Even though it is an extra year, I chose the design department's Master's of Design in Interaction Design over the HCI program. To me, even the term "Human Computer Interaction" is like a relic from another era. HCI to me implies that everything about interactivity and interface design can be learned, studied, then simply applied. It's a scientific approach to something, for me, is more akin to a creative craft. GOMS studies and such are all fine and good, but I've found that making educated guesses can sometimes work as well. I think a design degree from CMU will help me better make those educated guesses.

posted at 02:14 PM in cmu, hci program | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


Saturday, May 24, 2003

Masters in Playstation

That bastion of UK journalism, The Sun, is mocking Sheffield Hallam University's new Masters Degree in Entertainment Software Development (partially funded by Sony), which sounds quite a bit like CMU's Masters of Entertainment Technology.

posted at 04:36 AM in cmu | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link





All straight lines circle sometime. - The Weakerthans